When I was working out how to fly from Kiev, Ukraine to Shiraz, Iran – the most direct and affordable flights always involved a stopover in Istanbul. However, these stopovers were bloody long (12-18 hours!) and the idea of rushing around in Istanbul for a few hours to try and make the most of such a stopover sounded seriously unappealing.
So instead, I decided to spend a few days in Istanbul exploring some of the most beautiful parts of this enormous and overwhelmingly historic city.
The Grand Bazaar
Unfortunately, I found the bazaars and markets to be much more unpleasant than I had anticipated. The Spice Market and Grand Bazaar were both super touristy, crazily busy, and I found that I couldn’t walk more than a few metres without being accosted, grabbed or yelled at by someone desperate to sell their overpriced wares to a foreigner.
While walking through the Grand Bazaar I also noticed that there was a distinct lack of unaccompanied females – I did not see a single other woman who was walking around alone, and perhaps this added to my negative experience in the place.
In all honesty, I think that being hassled so much really does discourage people from actually wanting to make a purchase! I wanted to buy one of these gorgeous lamps, but no sooner than I had looked at them, the owner of the shop had already come out and forcibly tried to get me to enter his shop! I bought next to nothing in Istanbul, purely because of this behaviour. I have a feeling that people would probably actually sell a lot more if they just chilled out a bit.
This public square lies between two of Istanbuls most famous landmarks – Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The restaurants in this area are very touristic, but despite this, it is a lovely place to go for a stroll and enjoy some free examples of Turkish design and architecture.
Hagia Sophia is arguably the most important building in all of Istanbul. It began as Greek Orthodox Church in 537AD, was converted to a mosque in 1453 and was later converted into a museum in 1935.
This building has been an important part of Turkish history and is also one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in all of Turkey. It is particularly famous for its large dome, and for holding the title of largest cathedral in the world for hundreds of years. It was only in 1520 when Seville Cathedral was completed that it was bumped from the top spot.
The Hagia Sofpia is truly enormous, and as such, after almost walking into a Chinese tour group because I was too preoccupied with looking at the ceiling, I decided that sitting down for a while might be a good idea.
No sooner than I had plonked my butt down on one of the very few benches, I was approached by this furry creature!
This little kitty is named Gli, and is actually a rather well known figure around Instanbul. He has been living inside this famous building for years – and even met Obama!
Gli enjoyed pats, posing for pictures and playing with my scarf – it was a pretty adorable welcome to Turkey.
The entrance fees to Hagia Sophia are by no means cheap (40TL or approximately $14 AUD) so make sure you take your time while visiting. Soak up every stunning nook and cranny to really make the most of your time at what is (in my honest opinion) the most stunning structure in Istanbul.
The basilica cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient underground cistern systems that lie underneath bustling Istanbul.
The name of this famous cistern was given due to the location of its construction. Before the construction of this cistern, a Constantinople-era basilica stood in the same spot.
The cistern has the capacity to hold a whopping 100,000 tonnes of water, but in the modern day it only holds enough water to make the floors glisten.
Entrance to the cistern is 10TL (approximately $3.50 AUD) and despite it being one of the cheapest ticketed attractions in Istanbul, it was easily one of my favourite.
It was hard to capture the darkness in photographs, but once you descend the 50-something stairs down, it really is dark done there. I loved the kinda spooky vibes of the place!
The Blue Mosque
If you have only heard of one building in Istanbul, there is a good chance that it would be the Blue Mosque.
This mosque is the most famous one in Istanbul, and gets its name due to the blue tiles lining the interior designs.
Entrance to the mosque is free (woohoo!) but you will need to wear modest clothing and a head scarf if you are a woman. If you don’t have the right gear it is available to borrow upon entering the mosque. You will also need to take off your shoes before entering, so try not to wear any footwear that is overly complicated to put on and take off.
Once inside the mosque, be prepared to be absolutely blown away by the beauty of it.
While visiting, make sure that you are careful not to stare at anybody who is praying, and also make sure to avoid using the flash on your camera or phone. It is after all, a place of prayer, so anybody visiting should do their absolute best to stay respectful.
The only thing I didn’t love about the Blue Mosque?
The truly ridiculous number of selfie sticks! Put them away guys, and instead just take a super subtle ‘I’m not even taking a photo’ selfie from down low. Not only will nobody look at you in annoyance for waving your selfie stick around, but you’ll also get the stunning roof and arches in the background of your picture – hello double win!
Getting to Istanbul: Istanbul is well serviced by two international airports – Ataturk and Sabiha Gökçen
Cheers Hostel: A cheap hostel with wonderful staff and a rooftop bar with brilliant views
Hagia Sophia: For more information about Hagia Sophia – click here
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: If you plan to enter any religious sites – make sure to be respectful!
67 thoughts on “Tremendously Turkish | Falling In Love With Istanbul”
Super post, love your photos (and your Camera 😉👍) Marcus
Thanks so much Marcus, I love my camera too haha
You are getting about this time. Destination: Iran? I find the Christmas markets in Manchester aren’t enjoyable when they become too crowded but even though you didn’t enjoy the Bazaar experience that is a beautiful lamp shop photo you got.
As with Carrie in Homeland you demonstrate that the headscarf look is very fetching. Not the point, I know, but more like that from Iran please! But do take care there.
Hahaha, there are MANY headscarf photos on the way! I absolutely adored Iran, and felt safer there than I have in most countries – it is such an amazing country.
Wonderful photos! Loved the lanterns and the kitty. So cute!
I can totally relate! Istanbul simply charmed me. My trip there is one of my most unforgettable.
It really is an amazing city.
It’s been my dream to go to Haiga Sofia since we learned about in AP Art History! Everything in Istanbul looks amazing.
Any plans to visit Istanbul in the near future?
Not yet, but we’ll see how much money I have during grad school 😉
Hi, I really don’t know how you do it. Love each one of your blogs. Specially enjoyed this one as I visited Istanbul in 1984 and it looks the same even now! After all, its held its charms for hundreds of years, what’s a few decades for a city like Istanbul! Enjoyed this post so much.
This is very true! Hopefully it still looks exactly the same a few centuries from now.
Very nice presentation of Hagia Sophia. You are absolutely right about the Grand Bazaar. Such a beautiful country in all. I visited back in 2012. I am not sure if I would go there now. It’s not the safest plaec in the world!!
Where is though? I felt very safe in istanbul. Bad things can happen anywhere and everywhere, so I try not to let the media influence me too much.
Stunning ceilings in the Blue Mosque – and I love the cat, he looks adorable 🙂
Oh isn’t he just the sweetest? I wanted to take him home haha
So beautiful! I would love to meet Gli, he seems very friendly!
He certainly is – he loved pats (and trying to eat my camera strap)
So beautiful! And you’re so brave for exploring on your own. I love your blog. Did you feel safe while you were there? I am dying to go but everyone I mention it to implores that I wait until it’s less tumultuous…
In terms of terrorism – I felt safe. Yes there will always be a risk in bigger cities, but the chances of you being the unlucky person caught in one such attack is incredibly low.
Home sweet home 😉 I know what you mean about the shopkeepers. I must’ve developed my Turkish face because I rarely get hassled in shops anymore.
Hahaha I need to work on mine I think!
I love the story of the cat! 😀 beautiful pictures
Gli <3 such a sweetie!
That is indeed a well-taken selfie 🙂 I think it is a sort of Asian trait that you encountered in the bazaars where people would rather hound you into buying something than let their ware speak for themselves. The Hagia Sophia, from the stunning looks of it makes up for the bazaar experience, it seems.
It definitely did! As for the hassling, maybe it works for some people, but it just turns me completely off.
I think it would put most anybody off. At least it would make me want to snap at the irritant’s head much like a tipsy T-Rex at work.
Omg haha best comment ever!
Comes from deep within, being an Indian who has survived working in Delhi 😀
Istanbul is one of my favorite cities, but I agree that the hard sell is a big turn off. I suspect it’s worse just now because tourism is down so much. Even if you avoid the Grand Bazaar, there are still the carpet salesmen.
I agree – I think that the vendors are getting desperate.
Istanbul is certainly an astonishing place, and despite the constant parade of hustlers (found in ALL West Asian cities, as well as in North Africa), it is high on my list of must-visits.
Great selfie, thanks for the tour of the sites in Istanbul.
Thanks Terry 🙂
Hi ya, I’m curious as to when you were here ( I live in Istanbul)? Shop keepers in tourist areas have gotten more and more desperate as terrorism has depleted tourist numbers. I’ve been here nearly two years and even in that short time a Western face is becoming less common. Many shops are closing in the bazaar and restaurants in the touristy areas are closing or desperate. It’s really sad. No excuses for hassling though. I find it relatively mild though compared to many places possibly as I respond in my meagre Turkish. A quick greeting in the local lingo seems to put them off…lol.
I was in Istanbul in February. I totally agree, the desperation is becoming palpable.
Really nice pictures/post. I particularly love the Basilica Cistern ones, the pictures are so clear, when I went to lighting didn’t offer the opportunity to have such great resolution. Hope you loved Turkey as much as I did.
The lighting wasn’t very good for me either, these shots were taking with a slower shutter speed in order to let more light into the lens.
I was in Istanbul on a 24 hours layover in 2015. I loved the city too – it was different, interesting, vibrant and had plenty of good food options! 😀 I didn’t have the time to go inside any of the buildings, the interiors look too gorgeous to give a miss! Great post and photos as always, Ellen. 🙂
If you go back then the interiors are most definitely worth checking out!
Have to visit Istanbul next year, your post literally took me there 🙂
Istanbul is one of my absolute favorite cities. I could have spent hours in the Blue Mosque, and I am still upset I missed out on the cisterns. I don’t often do repeat visits, but Istanbul is one place I cannot wait to return to. Lovely photos!
It takes a very special city to make a second visit worthwhile, Istanbul is one such city!
Lovely pics and little Gli is VERY cute. You’re right about getting put off by stall holders. Such a shame
I LOVE Istanbul! I was there 4 years ago and it was my absolute favorite city I visited during my Study Abroad. Beautiful photos. Makes me miss it!
Great piece, Ellen! Love your ceiling photos and your excellent advice regarding respectful ways to visit spiritual places. I found Istanbul to be a real gem! I wasn’t expecting to love it, but I did! All you experiences resonate with me but none more so than your thoughts on the cistern. Definitely one of the best attractions to visit and surprisingly few tourists know about it.
Yes, I was so surprised by how few people went there! I wasn’t complaining though, ’twas nice to avoid the crowds for a short while.
The Grand Bazaar made me surprisingly claustrophobic. But I was glad I visited. It would have been even more difficult as a female alone.
Hagia Sophia is not particularly beautiful, but doesn’t it give a sense of all that happened over millenia.
Thanks for another great post.
Despite being too close to a bomb the first time I went, I will forever love Istanbul. Thank you for bringing back the sights and sounds so vividly.
Yikes, when was that?
Summer of 2003. Not one I’ll forget in a while.
Turkey is such a big diverse country with very rich history. I’ve been to Turkey about 8 times and always found something new to explore or experience. By the way, I’ve never been to Istanbul though. But after reading your post, Istanbul will be the first city I’ll visit in Turkey.
What are your favourite places in Turkey?
Stunning photo’s of a magnificent place.
After seeing all the cats in the film, Kedi, I now want to visit Istanbul to see all these fabulous felines! Did you see any more than the one?
OMG SO MANY CATS. Honestly, there are possibly more cats in Istanbul than people, it is actually amazing!
Now I *have* to go!
I really like your blog. The pictures you take a very nice. What kind of camera do you take your pictures on?
If you want to take a look at my blog, here it is: smallpiecebigworld.wordpress.com
I use an Olympus OM-D E-M1 🙂
This place is soo fascinating 💗
This post is so beautiful! I’ve been to Istanbul a few times but you’ve really inspired me to go back 🙂
This is such a great post. I’m instantly reminded of the world I imagined while reading Inferno by Dan Brown which describes Istanbul like no other. Planning to visit Turkey soon and Istanbul is definitely on priority. Thanks for the guide! 🙂
I love Istanbul! Great photos. 👍🏼👍🏼
Great post! I’m thinking to go to Istanbul and wonder if there are other places aside from the Grand Bazaar and spice market where you noticed that there are no single woman traveling alone unaccompanied?
Great post. Shame about those gorgeous lamps but like you I would walk away if I got accosted. I hate it!!
Great post, Istanbul is on my list to travel to.